Recently on NBC NEWS a report was made on the decline of the Monarch Butterfly during their winter migration in Mexico. Their numbers have dropped to their lowest level since record keeping began in 1993. After steep and steady declines in the previous three years, the black-and-orange butterflies now cover only 1.65 acres in the pine and fir forests west of Mexico City, compared with 2.93 acres last year. This report was released by the World Wildlife Fund, Mexico's Environment Department and the Natural Protected Areas Commission, it indicated at their peak in 1996 covered more than 44.5 acres.
Gardeners appreciate beneficial insects, we observe, nurture and provide sanctuary for the Monarch Butterfly as we know how precious they are in our gardens. They are having a tough time with the changes in weather and their food source. There is speculation that the decline is due to genetically modified "herbicide-resistant" corn and soybean crops along with herbicides in the USA. Extreme weather; severe cold snaps, unusually heavy rains and droughts, have also played a role in the decline. All this leads to the killing of the monarch's principal food plant, the common milkweed.
Now are YOU ready to TAKE THE CHALLENGE?
Many butterflies have a single plant required as a food source for their larval stage, called a host plant. Milkweed is the host plant for the Monarch butterfly. Without milkweed, the larva would not be able to develop into a butterfly. Adult monarchs feed on the nectar of many flowers, but they breed only where milkweeds are found. Monarchs use a variety of milkweeds, found in the fields, along the roads and even in wet areas.
Below are links to the types of milk weeds that grow in our area:
Click on the link and then on the right side of the screen is specific information about each plant.
How To Plant Seeds
Milkweeds are easily established from seeds, they prefer full sun and most prefer a dry well drained location. Native milkweeds of this region are deciduous perennials and will die back in the winter to come up again in the spring. Milkweed seeds are best planted in the fall because they benefit from the cold moist conditions of winter. For direct planting a large area prepare the seed bed by tilling the soil and leveling the site. You can mix the seeds with other native plants, broadcast the seeds and cover with 1/4 inch of soil with a rake. Go over the bed with turf roller to get good contact between the seeds and the soil.
If you are going to start the seeds then transplant them you can use the milk jug method. Place the seeds into individual pots then into the jug in the fall or winter and leave then out side they will germinate when ready. Once they are large enough to transplant move them to their proper location. They are very difficult to transplant if the roots are disturbed, so its' best to have them in the paper pots or a peat pot and plant the whole pot so the roots are not disturbed. This will give you a better chance of success.
With all the varieties of milkweed available in this area there are more than a few that would be perfect for your garden. Deer typically (no guarantee) don't bother them which is a plus and the milkweed flowers produce a strong and beautiful fragrance. The blooms come in many different colors ranging from orange, yellow, red, pink, purple, white and even green. Spread the word "GOT MILKWEED"?
Karen Smith McDonald
Class of 2010
Why Millions of Monarch Butterflies Are Disappearing From Mexico
By Mark Stevenson, The Associated Press
Baxter County Master Gardener Program • University of Arkansas System • Division of Agriculture • © 2013 BCMG